Jared Dudley is Ready to Lead

Jared Dudley fires up the crowd after a made basket. Copyright 2012 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
Posted: Sept. 7, 2012

The 33rd President of the United States Harry S. Truman once said of leadership, “progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” After an offseason that could best be described as a complete remodel for the Phoenix Suns, plenty of chances have emerged for leaders to surface and opportunities for change to be seized. The question is, who will step up and do it?

It’s something head coach Alvin Gentry says will have to happen organically.

“The thing I’ve always said to my teams is that I don’t think you can appoint a leader,” Gentry explained about his philosophies on leadership. “I think leaders will step up. We’ll see out of this bunch of guys who ends up doing that. I don’t think it’s anything I can do as a coach.”

While Gentry can’t appoint a leader, a logical candidate has emerged this summer and during the first few informal workouts on the US Airways Center practice court. Swingman Jared Dudley, who is entering his fifth season with the team, has the right amount of energy and experience in the system to step up. It’s a challenge he seems ready to embrace.

“Being a leader is natural to me,” Dudley said. “Sometimes you can do it different ways. For me I want to be a voice and consummate professional, be in the weight room and stay after practice. When things go wrong, that’s when you show your leadership. It’s easy to be a leader when things are going well.”

Dudley is no stranger to taking the reigns of a team. He had to assume that role in his senior season at Boston College. After Craig Smith led the team to a school best 28 wins the year before, it was Dudley’s turn to take charge. He answered the call as he was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. The impressive statistics earned him 2007 ACC Player of the Year honors, but it was his on court attitude and demeanor that most helped the team gel and earn a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Although he isn’t in college anymore, the Suns' offseason may be providing an opportunity for history to repeat itself. With the roster changeover now complete and only six players returning, he has another chance to step up like he did in his senior year. It’s an opportunity he won’t let pass him by.

“We’ve lost a lot of pieces, but we have a lot of talent,” Dudley said. “It’s going to be [Coach Gentry’s] job, with the help of myself and other key veterans, to help mesh it all together. That’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to bring a positive energy and be a guy to help people fit into their roles. That’s the key to the NBA, everybody finding their roles.”

That positive energy and desire to help his teammates hasn’t gone unnoticed by his head coach.

“Out of all of the guys here, there will be a leader to come out of this,” Gentry said. “Jared has a great opportunity to be that guy. He’s a veteran guy here. He’s been here long enough to understand what I want and what the expectations are. We’re going to ask a lot of these guys this year.”

In preparation for those new expectations and possible responsibilities, Dudley spent the summer working out with fellow NBA players in Las Vegas. He focused on his ball handling skills and getting his own shot off of screen and rolls. It is a skill he feels is key for any player who hopes to be playing come late April.

“Watching the playoffs, I saw every team that did well had numerous guys who could create their own shot off the pick and roll, so that was big,” he said. “I also tried to get in good shape so I could come back in that fourth quarter when shots are a little bit tired and get them to fall through.”

His biggest focus, however was on the defensive end of the court.

“Defensively I tried to guard all of the best players everywhere I went,” Dudley said. “Hopefully I can take on the that defensive role on our team of playing on the [opponents] best players.”

It’s not just the on-the-court skills and demeanor that makes for a great leader. It’s what they do off the court when no one is looking that is key, as well. Dudley has that covered, too. His concern for the community has shown through his help at local hospitals and schools in previous seasons, and he will be running a free basketball clinic for Valley youth on September 22 at Scottsdale Community College.

Will it all translate to Dudley becoming the leader of this team? Only time will tell. What is clear is the 2012-13 season marks a new beginning for the Suns and brings with it an opportunity for progress on the court. It’s up to Dudley whether he’ll seize the chance that the fresh start provides and become the man to lead that change or not.